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Thursday, February 05, 2015

Beer Sherpa Recommends: Double Mountain My Little Runaway

There's been entirely too much chat about the business of beer: let's talk about beer itself for a change.  Today's selection comes to us from Hood River, where Double Mountain founder and orchard-owner Matt Swihart has been making tasty fruit beers for several years.  His pièce de résistance is Devil's Kriek, a wild cherry ale that bubbles away under a Brettanomcyes cap over in one corner of the brewery throughout the year.  He may actually have topped himself with My Little Runaway, however, which is one of the best beers I've tried in recent memory.

Photo blatantly stolen from Ezra at the New School.
There's not a ton of info about Runaway except that it was fermented with the Ardennes yeast, made with Van and Bing cherries and "a tiny stolen blend of next year's Devil Kriek to commingle as sweet, refreshing cherry ale with the ghost of bitterness."  (Someone at the brewery has lately gotten poetic with the press releases.)  I considered trying to track down more info, but sometimes the less you know, the more you taste, so I let my mouth give me the tour.

Superficially, Runaway presents itself like a light frolic of sweetness and cherries, frothy and kissed with sweetness.  Uncareful tasters might not notice anything more and be plenty happy with that.  But there's more going on.  It's got a touch of acidity, which gives it some vinous balance (I think wine drinkers would absolutely love this beer).  A mouthful evolves in short order past the fruit into something earthy and spicy, which read to me like tannins.  (Cherry pits?)  A hint of leathery Brettanomcyes accentuates this quality and also dries the beer out as you swallow.  It is a wild ale, but just barely--and in this I think there's a lesson. Breweries often let their wild beasts roam too freely, and the aggressively sour and/or dry beers that result are too much for all except the most inveterate sour-heads. If all wild ales were at this level of intensity, though, they could find a mass audience. (Maybe the fact that the label nowhere identifies it as such is telling.) It's hard to imagine who wouldn't enjoy this beer. 

There has been a lot of talk about brewery ownership structures and "fussy" beers lately, and My Little Runaway is instructive for another reason.  It may well have mass appeal, but it's the kind of beer that's probably almost impossible to make on a mass scale.  It employs whole fruit, which is a pain in the ass to work with in large volumes, but more importantly gets its secret ingredient from an aging wild ale, the king of the unscalable beers.  You might be able to find a workaround to get a beer something like this if you wanted to brew 2 million barrels, but those spicy tannins, that delicate dryness--I can't imagine how you could mass-market that.  Little breweries often make the best beer because some of the best beer can't be made in giant volumes. 

Do yourself a favor and track down My Little Runaway (bottles are supposed to be available in PDX, but if you happen to be in the Gorge, make a special trip to Double Mountain)--it will remind you of just how good beer can be.

"Beer Sherpa Recommends" is an irregular feature.  In this fallen world, when the number of beers outnumber your woeful stomach capacity by several orders of magnitude, you risk exposing yourself to substandard beer.  Worse, you risk selecting substandard beer when there are tasty alternatives at hand.  In this terrible jungle of overabundance, wouldn't it be nice to have a neon sign pointing to the few beers among the crowd that really stand out?  A beer sherpa, if you will, to guide you to the beery mountaintop.  I don't profess to drink all the beers out there, but from time to time I stumble across a winner and when I do, I'll pass it along to you.

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